I found a tree tunnel somewhere in the woods by the lake. Leaves scattered everywhere, making a crunching sound each time I take a step. I didn’t realize how beautiful this place was until the sun hit the entire place and the red color of the leaves that were scattered shone on the ground. I found a log and sat at it looking at the dark yellow paper in my hand, scribbled by names of places.
There were about over five places listed on the paper and the first three were checked. It was the Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, and Olvera Street. That was the last three places I’ve gone to with my dad before he died.
I remembered how cheery my dad’s face was when we were at those places. I wanted to cry, but crying myself out in a tunnel tree nowhere in the woods and far away from the house was the last thing I wanted to do. Looking up, I fought back the tears about to fall in my eyes, but it fell on the side of my eyes.
I wiped the tears off my cheeks and looked at the dark yellow paper once more. My dad made a travel bucket list for the two of us. I did not even know. I sniffled and wiped my nose and winced when I hit the wound with it.
“Oh, what is that?” someone blurted out behind me and took the paper from my hands.
I looked behind me, expecting Ace would be the ******* who took the paper, but it wasn’t him, though I consider this guy an *******, too.
It was the guy I threw milk at, or should I say Nico, according to him at the lake earlier.
“Hey, give it back!” I protested to him.
He put his hands on his back, keeping away the paper out of my reach. I circle around him as he switches the paper between his two hands until he extended his arms above his head, making it truly impossible for me to reach because of his towering height.
“And ouch, what happened to your face?” He said with a wincing expression.
“None of your business. Give. It. Back.” I said, jumping to reach paper.
He looked at the paper above him and must have seen the many places listed on the list.
“Ha! You will run away to these places! What is this… Ellie Blythe and dad’s….”
Nico trailed off, lowering the paper in front of his thinking face. I took his expression as a distracted face and snatched the paper from him, but he made it out of my way.
“Ellie Blythe….” He said, squinting his eyes at me.
I gave him a “what” look.
“Oh My God! You’re Ellie Blythe Osborne!” He said with a surprising and happy expression on his face.
“Of course, my name’s Ellie Blythe. It’s written on…” I trailed off and gave him a questioning look. “How d’you know my last name?”
“You don’t remember me?” I gave him a who the **** are you look. “It’s Nico.” Clearly, I knew his name was Nico. He just screamed it at the lake a little while ago.
“I don’t know you,” I said to him.
“You don’t remember me? Nico. Nicolai Evans. Sunnyvale?”
Sunnyvale was my hometown. I took a moment to register his face somewhere in my childhood memories, repeating his name in my mind.
Nicolai, Nicolai, Nicolai…
Nicolai Dean Evans.
My eyes widened as outrage consumed my entire system. Of course, I know Nicolai! He was a ******* bully to me, way back in elementary.
Though Nicolai was not my classmate in elementary because he was one grade ahead of me, he was my neighbor.
I remembered one time he gave me a donut, of course. I was happy and took the donut from him. But then, when I took a bite from it, instead of a strawberry jam, it was full of ******* spicy sauce. I skipped school for two days because of my stomach.
Another thing I remembered about him was that it was playtime at school, so all the students were playing at the playground. I was on the swing when young ******* Nicolai called me by the picnic table. And being a dumb ****** as I was, I walked towards him. He gave me yet another donut.
I hesitated, but he told me it was a pure donut and he was sorry for the spicy sauce ones. I took a bite, and it was a pure donut. He invited me to sit down and we eat ******* delicious donuts and the next thing I knew, everyone was laughing at me and a teacher smelling my butt because ******* Nicolai put melted chocolate on my seat.
I feel the anger rushing through my veins.
“Of course, I ******* remember you. Nicolai ******* Dean Evans!” I said to him with gritted teeth as I slapped him everywhere with all my power as he kept on saying “ouch” with a laugh between his tone. “You’re a ******* ******* and a bully,” I said, pulling his hair. This time, he screamed in pain.
“Ellie, what on earth? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” I stopped what I was doing and saw Luna.
“Why are you pulling this guy’s hair? Wait, is he the milk boy?” I face Nico again, surprised by the proximity of our face. He looked at me with a questioning look, and I stepped at the log and snatched the paper from him.
“He’s no one,” I said, walking towards Luna and dragged us back to the cabin
The next day, the cousins and I were sitting at a picnic table at the Common Grounds with our morning exercise clothes provided by the campsite.
Luna was braiding my hair. Meanwhile, William was strumming a random chord on a guitar he borrowed from one of his cabin mates while I sip on my lemonade.
Just in time, as Luna had finished braiding my hair into two Dutch braids, a facilitator appeared and instructed all the campers to go to the track and field to run five laps.
On our third lap, Nico appeared by my side and blurted out.
“So, you got any plans for your escape plan?” He asked, running with us. I ignored him.
“You’re escaping?” Luna asked in surprise, keeping her eyes on the track and field running.
“No, I am not,” I said to Luna.
“Actually, she is,” Nico said.
“Well, if you truly are escaping. I am in.” William blurted out of nowhere. I stopped running. So were the others.
The three of us looked at William. “You are?” I asked him.
William faced us. “We are.” he said, pointing his fingers between him and Luna.
Nico and I switched looks between Luna and William. “We are?” Luna once again asked in surprise.
“Well, the more the merrier. Welcome to the club.” Nico said as he put his hand in a shake hands position and William just high five it.
The two, at the same time, ran in different directions. William ahead of the tracks and Nico ahead to the bleachers. Luna and I, looking both confused, followed the two.
Luna followed William ahead, screaming at him, and I followed Nico as I saw Ace removing bubble gums by the bleachers. He might have seen my smirk and came walking towards me.
“Why are you smiling, huh? You think this is fun for you? I am not done with you yet, Osborne.” he threatened, inching forward towards me.
Nico might have heard Ace ran towards us. He looked at Ace.
“You got a problem with her, man?” Nico said in a menacing voice. Ace gave him a mocking laugh, and the two glared at each other.
“Wow, knight in shining armor is always to the rescue for you, huh, Osborne. At first, it was William and now this dude? Wow.” I just rolled my eyes, tired of his ********, and Nico looked at me.
“He’s the one who pushed you on the lake and did that to your face, am I right?” Nico asked me as Ace scoffed at him. Nico switched his glance to Ace and glared at him.
I tap Nico’s shoulder as I push him away slowly through his shoulders, “Come on, he’s not worth it.”
We were about to walk away when I heard Ace whispered “*****.” Nico must have heard it too, and everything happened so fast that I barely even noticed how Nico swung his arms to punch Ace in the face. All I knew was Ace already on the ground, groaning.
Took by surprise, I looked around me and luckily there were no facilitators around. Nico was about to punch Ace again as soon as he stood up, but I blocked his way before he could throw another punch.
“That’s enough. Okay?” I said to him and turned his body around and dragged him to the bleachers.
“He’s a great ass,” Nico said, stretching his limbs by the bleachers. I sat at the bleachers looking far away.
“Nico, there’s no way I am getting out of here,” I said, looking at him. He clicked his tongue and sat beside him.
“How about we make a deal? Since I saved you from that ******* twice, despite you throwing milk at me, how about do me a favor instead.” I looked at him to go on with his deal.
“See that girl over there.” he pointed at a young girl, probably fifteen or sixteen years old, across the field who was sitting by the field with a Black American boy. She was the Asian girl Nico was talking to last night.
“Her name’s Erin. She’s like a little sister to me, and the very thing she wanted to do is to get out of here. The thing is, I can get her out of here, but as soon as we hit the road, I don’t know where to go since I am not from here. Luckily, I found you yesterday with a paper with several places written on it,” he explained. I just kept quiet beside him, looking at the girl. “You’re getting me, right?”
I looked at Nico. “I’d like to help you, Nico. But I don’t want to cause any more trouble.” I said.
“Yeah, I know. I get where you’re coming from. I’ve heard about your hm…” he trailed off.
“My dad.” I finished.
“Yeah. What you’ve been through really sucks. He was a good friend of my aunt. He was a good man, Blythe. And he had helped her nephew a lot in architecture…” yeah, my dad was an architect, “… and now he graduated with flying colors.” Nico said to me.
“How about this, think of this plan as an escape, not for trouble but to help someone to venture out there and take away all the unfair things the world threw out at her? Or maybe you can think of it as fulfillment or accomplishment to your dad after he died,” Nico continued.
“Think about it, okay? Come back to me when you’ve made your decision and I will respect if you want in or not. See you later, Blythe.” he smiled at me, ruffling the top of my head and ran away, continuing his lap.
At breakfast, I explained everything to the cousins. About who Nico was and what he wants.
“Totally in. God, this place sucks makes me want to puke.” William said. I looked at Luna.
“I say we help the girl, fulfill your dad’s list, and get out of here,” Luna said.
Our school, and specially just for the Palm Valley High students, requested the first activity, so the other groups got this time as free time or to watch.
The special activity was lacrosse, the number one sports in Bakersfield High School.
“Now, this is not your typical lacrosse. Today, we will play on solid ground with roller skates.” Students groan and hissed “what”.
Lacrosse with roller skates? The ****? Is that even a thing?
I put on my gears and stand beside William. I saw Nico watching with Erin and the black guy Erin was with during the morning exercise.
“You okay?” William asked.
“No. Will, one thing you got to know about me is that I am the most unathletic girl you’ll ever meet in your entire life.” William pat me on the back.
“You’ll get by,” He said, and the whistle blew.
The game was a mess. From time to time, William or Luna interrupted it. Getting ****** off at Ace for getting so violent with our team, especially to me. And the last time Ace tackled me down so hard, he ended up on the ground, tackled by Nico, punching him in the face.
Lunch came and all the campers gathered around the Common Grounds to grill the chicken on a campfire to which we cleaned, marinated, and captured by ourselves during the second activity.
We saw Nico at the picnic table, eating with Erin and the boy. We walked towards him and sat across.
“Oh hi, Blythe, this is Erin and Damien.” We waved at them.
“We’re in.” Nico looked at me as if his eyes sparkled.
“Perfect.” He said, doing the okay gesture.
“When do we leave,” William asked.
“Tonight,” Nico said casually.
Our eyes widened and the three of us said in unison, “Tonight?!”
“How?” Luna asked skeptically.
“I’ve got that planned out. Now, what you three will do is to sneak out your cabins after the lights off and meet me at the tree tunnel with your packed bags. All right?” We nod and the three of them stood up and said goodbye.
“Are we going to make it out tonight?” Luna asked.
I have always been a cynical person, but being a pessimist right will not help and it might just make us back off and that is the last thing I wanted to do.
“Of course we can.” I lied to them.
“You trust him?” William asked me.
Truth is, no. I don’t trust Nico. In fact, I don’t even trust myself.
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